What if people are angry?
What if everyone ignores me?
What if someone tries to stop me?
Those were the questions in my mind when I climbed on a ledge the morning of Bike to Work Day 2011, in a crowded city plaza in Oakland, to deliver my first guerrilla storytime. We didn’t call it a guerrilla storytime at that point--it was a protest. And children weren’t our intended audience. Oakland Public Library was facing massive budget cuts, enough to reduce our 17-branch system to 4 with just a handful of staff. My coworkers and I would all lose our jobs, and our city of 400,000 people would all but completely lose library service. We were trying to raise awareness however we could.
So I agreed to launch an unplanned, unexpected storytime in the middle of a popular city event, then deliver a quick message to those gathered about contacting their City Council reps. There was to be no public vote on library closures--Council alone would decide. They needed to hear from their constituents. And so those constituents needed to hear from me.
In the moments before I began yell-singing “Let Everyone Clap Hands Like Me” into a megaphone, my heart pounded and I looked for children in the crowd so I could pretend I was doing a regular old storytime. And with no time to answer any of the scary questions in my mind, I plunged in.
Advocacy isn’t always guerrilla storytimes at crowded events, but even if you aren’t worried about security pulling you off your perch above the crowd, advocacy can be anxiety-provoking, overwhelming, intimidating….. in short, scary. And fear can make us less likely to stand up and speak out for our libraries and communities. Talking about fears can make them less powerful, so in this issue of EAM, we’re starting a conversation on fear in advocacy. You can keep the conversation going by submitting a tale of how you overcame advocacy fear, which we’ll include on the Everyday Advocacy site.
Here’s what’s in the October 2018 issue:
- Some tips for overcoming your fears in speaking up!
- The new co-chairs of the Advocacy and Legislation Committee say hello, and share their thoughts on fear in advocacy.
- School librarian Ingrid Conley-Abrams talks about librarians and fear.
- The latest in advocacy-related ALSC blog posts.
- Do statistics scare you? We’ll read the EA page on Using Statistics Effectively to remove that fear.
- Plus, as always, a few things you can do in just five minutes.
I’ll never say “Boo!” to you,
Amy Martin, Member Content Editor
ALSC Everyday Advocacy Website & Electronic Newsletter
What do you do when it’s time to speak up for your library--and nerves strike? Whether you’re presenting to your library board or practicing a new elevator speech, here are five tried-and-true strategies for keeping your chill:
- Be prepared, and know your subject matter. Read up on the issues at hand. Confidence in your subject matter is relaxing.
- Plan and practice. If you’re short on time, even reading your notes out loud once will help.
- Consider likely outcomes. Is that disaster scenario you’re picturing--the one where everyone leaves the room in anger--likely to happen? Is it more likely they’ll listen, even if they disagree? A reality check can be helpful.
- Breathe deeply and move your body before you start. Shake your shoulders, jump up and down, or walk across the room. Fill your lungs and breathe out slowly.
- Find a “friendly.” If you see a person smiling or showing interest, make them your focal point in the room. Make eye contact with others, but return to your friendly!
The ALSC Advocacy and Legislation Committee works hard to support members in advocacy efforts. I asked the new co-chairs of the committee, Sarah Okner and Nate Halsan, how they fight fear in advocacy. Here are their replies:
When some folks hear a call for advocacy, they can get overwhelmed. They wonder: “What should I say? Will I have the right answers? How do I explain all of the amazing things your library can do for your community in a tight, digestible package?” Phew! So stressful. I wondered about these questions for a long time. I also felt intimidated. (Honestly, sometimes that feeling still creeps back)
Luckily, I had several mentors who taught me that with practice, the butterflies go away. They also told me that I already had the tools needed to be a good library advocate.
Passion: Like many other librarians, I truly believe in the good we do. When you speak about something you love, it’s easy for folks to see and that excitement will spread.
Public speaking: As Youth Services Librarians, we’re already great public speakers and performers. If we can sing the Tooty Ta in front of 40 preschoolers, we can do anything.
Information: While knowing circulation and program statistics are vital for advocacy, my mentors reminded me of the power of story. How everyday interactions with our patrons are the most impactful. These are the stories people need to hear and will most often remember. Stories about a patron returning to the library after you helped them with their resume, excitedly telling you that he go the job. Of a family of recent immigrants who attended storytimes and saw their child’s confidence and grasp of English skyrocket. Of working a booth at a local festival and meeting dozens of people excitedly saying, “I didn’t know my library has that!” as you sign them up for cards.
So when I get overwhelmed, I remember that it’s okay. I already have everything I need to be a great advocate for libraries in my back pocket.
Sarah Okner is a Youth and School Services Librarian with the Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire, Illinois.
As a relatively new librarian, I am still learning the role of a librarian advocate. To be honest, it often feels overwhelming. I’d also bet that feeling will never dissipate. There’s a lot to consider. We have stakeholders at local, state, and federal levels and a perch at the kid’s desk doesn’t often feel like a place where real advocacy happens.
I’ve come to realize that we advocate library services every day and we do it from those desks. Our expertise is obvious to the stakeholders who are most important: the families we serve. We practice elevator speeches as we describe resources to a new family, explaining how the library can support them. Our role as a library advocate is fine-tuned in the day to day interactions we have, preparing us to take our skills to stakeholders who might not always find themselves at our desks.
Nate Halsan is a youth services librarian with the Sacramento Public Library and Co-Chair of ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation Committee.
Ingrid Conley-Abrams is one of my heroes. She’s a school librarian in NYC, has a long history as a public library advocate, and blogs at The Magpie Librarian: A Librarian's Guide to Modern Life and Etiquette. As a school librarian, she advocates tirelessly for her students. I asked her a couple questions about fear in advocacy:
EAM: I know you to be a brave and outspoken person, but I know that brave does not mean without fear. When does speaking out for your students and community feel scary to you? How do you handle that fear?
ICA: The way I experience fear as a librarian has changed as I've gotten older and more established in the field. As a new librarian, I was frightened to speak out against the injustices I witnessed: Afraid of the attention, afraid of being labeled as a "troublemaker", afraid of being ineloquent or using the wrong words, and afraid of negatively impacting my career. Now, after 10 or so years working in public and school libraries, I still experience fear, for sure, but it's morphed into something different. Now, the thoughts that keep me awake at night are for when I don't speak up. When I freeze up during uncomfortable or difficult discussions, I replay the what-ifs in my head over and over. I want to do right by our kids and our community every day. When I don't measure up to my own expectations, that's when I'm really stewing in my fear. I'm terrified of becoming complacent.
EAM: In what ways do you see fear impacting librarianship today?
ICA: Librarians claim neutrality, I think, because we are afraid of difficult conversations. Talking about race or gender or sexual orientation or fascism or equity or all of the above can be so frightening. But libraries will never be neutral as long as they're employed by human beings. The difficult discussions will keep rolling in, and the best way to be ready for them is through practice and continued professional development.
Totals, percentages, averages, ratios. We’re guessing you’ve got no shortage of numbers to share! Statistics are compelling when used strategically to tell your library’s story. Keep these points in mind as you incorporate numbers and figures into your message:
Consider your message. Are statistics the best choice to help you convey your main points? The most powerful messages combine statistics and stories. In a very brief message, you may need to choose one over the other.
Know your audience. Is your audience likely to be compelled by numbers? If so, numbers will be most intriguing. Determine which statistics will have the maximum impact for the individuals or groups you’re addressing.
Be selective. One powerful statistic is better than three weak ones. Not all statistics are created equal, and a little can go a long way.
Keep it relevant. Ensure your statistics are relevant, interesting, and clear.
Offer perspective. Consider using both “bad” and “good” statistics. Example: Bad - In our county, 60% of children in 3rd grade are not reading at grade level. Good - The library’s new early literacy training is reaching 95% of the child care providers in our county.
Use context creatively. Change the context of numbers to create a clear visual image that packs a punch. Example: 10,000 petition signatures = almost seven straight days of testimony from citizens if they were given one minute each to speak. Hint: The Google search box will do these calculations for you!
Be accurate. Ensure your correlations are correct and unforced.
Stay current. Use the most current data you can. If your data is 10 or 15 years out of date, is it still relevant?
Make it fun! Use visuals, such as infographics, whenever possible. Infographics can be fun and imaginative, and a great graphic can help tell the story of the statistic. Find out more about infographics here!
Make it real. Use a library value calculator to show exactly how much families would pay for the books and other services the library provides.
Cast a wide net. Create a comprehensive list of resources to obtain statistics you can use in a variety of situations and settings. Here are some source ideas:
- Local: Local governmental units (town, city, county) often make available information on their websites. Census data has information on such topics as number of single-parent households with children, number of youth in various age groups, number of grandparents responsible for grandchildren, and much more. American Fact Finder is easy to use and very helpful!
- State: State governmental departments, often the state library, provide data. Census data is available chunked by state also.
- National: ALA offers quotable facts about America’s libraries with excellent statistics. Other national statistic ideas are here.
Articles from outside the library world for you to email, tweet, or cite in your speech to elected officials.
“To restore civil society, start with the library.” The opinion column that’s been buzzing around your social media. (New York Times)
...And around the same time, Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell teamed up on this amazing illustrated essay on why we need libraries. (The Guardian)
Denver Public Library is one of the latest to say goodbye to fines. (Denver Post)
Here’s a stat for your toolbox: US libraries had 1.39 billion visits in 2015. (Forbes)
Well, YOU knew most of these things--but here are 17 things library users may not know they can do with a library card. (Buzzfeed)
Be inspired by John Bunn, free after 17 years of wrongful imprisonment, who’s on a quest to help inmates love to read. (CNN)
For those of you who want to do aaallll the advocacy, but it’s gotta be fast.
- Tell us your story of overcoming fear in advocacy.
- Practice an elevator speech, or listen to a friend practice theirs.
- Think about who you could help with a Light the Way grant.
- Find one impactful library statistic to use in your everyday advocacy.
- Share a news article from this issue on your (or your library’s) social media accounts.
October 7-13 Teen Read Week
October 21-27 National Friends of Libraries Week
November 4-10 International Games Week
December is Universal Human Rights Month.